Michael Dixon: I, Too, Sing America
David Richard Gallery
Sun 7 Apr 2019 to Sat 4 May 2019
David Richard Gallery presents I, Too, Sing America, an exhibition of recent and new paintings by artist Michael Dixon in his first solo exhibition in New York.
This series, begun in 2015 at the Sharpe-Walentas Studio Program in New York, is comprised of self-portraits that explore blackness; the value of black bodies in America; historic violence against those bodies; and the artist’s feelings as a bi-racial Black man.
Dixon’s work is about belonging and fitting into a particular culture and ethnicity as part of a bi-racial experience. This social and psychological need provides, understandably, a certain amount of emotional security and nurturing. There is an overwhelming desire for one person to not define another purely based on that person’s skin color, or ethnicity, and for them to share a mutual tolerance and acceptance of each other. Yet, there is also an underlying need for individuals to belong to and identify with a specific ethnicity and culture in order to know the established social constructs and norms within those communities. However, the dynamic seems to change when a person is born into two different races, neither of which can always see that individual as whole.
Dixon lives in two worlds, always feeling that he is not black enough or white enough for either race and thus, not fully included within either. On one hand, he experiences discrimination and prejudice as a Black man, but on the other, he often enjoys the privileges of passing as white at times due to his light skin color. The polarizing experiences challenge his identity and where he fits, not only in terms of African American history, but also in terms of his day-to-day life and future relationships.
On a personal and practical level, Dixon copes with these personal racial challenges through his art. In a recent artist statement, he said, I have experienced fluidity in the perception of my race and ethnicity as a light skinned, bi-racial Black man. My struggles to fit into a racial group category and how I fashion an authentic self, while constantly feeling like an outsider, is the foundational and emotional content of my work.
The title of this exhibition, I, Too, Sing America, is the first line from I Too, a poem by Langston Hughes. The last line of the poem is equally profound and important, I, too, am America. The imagery in these paintings is powerful and haunting as it references both the historical and current racism and rage against African American communities in the United States. Dixon’s paintings are informed by the violence against Black men and women spanning slavery and the prejudice of Jim Crow Laws to recent shootings of unarmed Black men across the US and moreover, how the police and criminal justice system responds, or not, to such violence and discrimination.
The paintings are self-portraits, with very few exceptions; all are oil on canvas with just a partial view of the figure coming into the picture from the left, right or bottom and sometimes the painful reminder of dangling legs entering from the top. Dixon’s approach is reductive with no background or setting, thus emphasizing only the figure and how the artist is perceived by himself and viewed by others. The focus is on the brush stroke, minimizing the details and capturing only the essence of emotions, expressions and gestures. The broad and bold gestures are soulful, conveying tension, frustration, pain, horror, dismay and sorrow, which are the artist’s experiences on a regular basis.
About Michael Dixon:
Michael Dixon is an artist working primarily with oil paint. He was born in San Diego, California, and received his MFA from the University of Colorado at Boulder in painting, and a BFA from Arizona State University in painting and drawing. Dixon is currently a Full Professor of Art at Albion College. He has been the recipient of numerous awards and grants including a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant, Joan Mitchell Foundation Emergency Grant, Puffin Foundation Grant, Blanchard Fellowship, and Phi Beta Kappa Scholar of the Year Award. Dixon has received numerous artist residencies including the Sharpe-Walentas Studio Program, Yaddo, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and the Ragdale Foundation. His work has been shown both nationally and internationally at museums, universities, art centers, alternative spaces, and galleries. Dixon explores the personal, societal, and aesthetic struggles of belonging to both “white” and “black” racial and cultural identities, yet simultaneously belonging fully to neither. The works of artists such as Robert Colescott, Beverly McIver, Michael Ray Charles, Glenn Ligon, and Kerry James Marshall have informed his work.
Courtesy of the artist and David Richard Gallery